"I bet he likes you."
That's what the man working the registration desk at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus said to the daughter of Merritt Smith after she came in needing stitches. After the visit, Smith took to Facebook where she pointed out a few of the glaring problems with the man's remarks:
"That statement is where the idea that hurting is flirting begins to set a tone for what is acceptable behavior. My four year old knows 'That's not how we show we like someone. That was not a good choice.'"
"In that moment, hurt and in a new place, worried about perhaps getting a shot or stitches you were a person we needed to help us and your words of comfort conveyed a message that someone who likes you might hurt you. No. I will not allow that message to be ok. I will not allow it to be louder than 'That's not how we show we like each other.'"
"It is time to take responsibility for the messages we as a society give our children. Do Not tell my 4 year old who needs stitches from a boy at school hitting her 'I bet he likes you.' NO."
Smith's post has since earned more than 35,000 shares and dozens of comments from supporters and prompted her to pen an official statement:
On October 5, 2015 I visited the emergency room at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio with my four-year-old daughter. She was there to receive treatment for an injury that had occurred at preschool. A classmate hit her in the face with a metal toy forcefully enough to warrant stitches. Her school handled the incident professionally and respectfully, as did the parents of the child who hit my daughter.Nationwide Children’s Hospital has since reached out to Smith and her family and issued a statement of their own: "We are aware of a recent comment made by a member of our staff to a family seeking care. Although we know the comment was made with no malicious intent, it is our wish to apologize and express to you that this is something we are taking seriously. This comment does not represent our philosophy as an institution."
The comment, “I bet he likes you,” was made by a young man working at the registration desk to my daughter after learning that she sustained her injury from a boy in her class. I immediately pointed out, “That’s not how we show that we like someone,” but the totality of the experience, even after sleeping on it, weighed heavily on my heart and on my conscience as a mother. There were three key elements from my experience that compelled me to share my story:
1. The comment itself, regardless of the speaker’s intent, plants damaging seeds about what is acceptable as a demonstration of affection. It is a symptom of the larger issue of how deeply and casually violence is ingrained in our society.
2. At the registration desk, I was given an information pamphlet and a questionnaire on assistance for victims of domestic violence. I felt there was a huge disconnect between the comment and its message and these materials, which both came from the same place.
3. My four-year-old daughter had her first experience of losing her power over her own body to a necessary yet scary procedure because, as she had just been told, someone likes her.
This post was not initially public. A good friend asked if she could share it, so I changed my privacy setting on the post and off it went out into the world. It was not meant as an attack on the hospital or the employee, who genuinely meant no harm. I value Nationwide Children’s Hospital as a tremendous asset and resource in our community. They reached out to me and thanked me for creating awareness and the opportunity to refine the ongoing training they are committed to providing their staff. I am grateful for their empathy and desire to use this experience to grow, as I hope others may.
It is my intent that this be a teaching moment. I am humbled by the overwhelming response and positive conversations being had near and far. If we re-examine the power of our words, we can change old scripts that do not serve us as adults and most certainly do not serve our children. By bringing awareness to how a seemingly innocuous remark can cause harm, I hope that we can change the messages that guide our children as they learn to interact with one another and the world around them.